How about meat without involving animals? Move over, veggie burgers; food companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, among others, have created plant-based meats that smell, taste, and look (imagine a thick, juicy hamburger) like the real thing. Unlike traditional veggie burgers, made from soy and bean paste, which have been marketed primarily to vegetarians, these companies are wooing and winning over a new group of customer-so-called “flexitarians”- consumers who do eat (or, at least, desire the taste and texture of) meat but, for health or sustainability reasons, want to reduce their meat consumption. According to Barclays Investment Bank, roughly one-third of Americans, or 100 million people, follow a flexitarian diet and that number is expected to rise.
Impossible Foods, which makes the Impossible Burger, and Beyond Meat, the company responsible for the Beyond Burger, are perhaps the most well-known producers of meats whose ingredients are derived from plants. Although their ingredients and manufacturing processes are not identical, both companies seek to replicate the essential qualities of a hamburger derived from cows: texture (Impossible and Beyond both utilize various plant proteins); fat/marbling (both companies use coconut oil, as well as other cooking oils); coloring (Impossible relies on soy leghemoglobin, or “heme”, while Beyond uses beet and apple extracts); and flavor (both use natural flavors, and the “heme” that Impossible uses for color also enhances the flavor profile of its products.
Growing Availability and Popularity of Plant-Based Meats
For an industry that barely existed five years ago, the plant-based meat sector is experiencing spectacular growth, and over 50,000 grocery stores and restaurants, including Safeway, Whole Foods, Burger King, Subway, White Castle, KFC, and Carl’s Jr., now carry products from Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods.
And burgers are not the only choice when it comes to plant-based meats. Other options include chicken, pork, and sausages. In August of 2019, after a successful trial run in New York City, Dunkin’ Donuts announced it was rolling out a breakfast sandwich made with Beyond Meat sausages in 9,000 of its stores. Likewise, after selling out of the new plant-based Beyond Fried Chicken in Atlanta, KFC is introducing the product at other locations throughout the South.
According to the Good Food Institute, the value of the U.S. plant-based meat market was $801 Million for the year ending April 2019. Furthermore, investment firm UBS projects growth of plant-based protein and meat alternatives to increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion in 2030.
Gas Usage in Facilities Producing Plant-Based Meats
Food safety compliance is critically important in the food industry and, to continue to grow their sales and increase market acceptance, producers must ensure that their plant-based meats are as safe to consume as non-plant-based meats. Safety requirements dictate that plant-based hamburger, sausage, chicken, and other products be rapidly chilled and/or frozen during the production process and before they can be shipped to restaurant or grocery outlets. As such, modern freezing technology, including the use of tunnel freezers, is essential to the ongoing success of the plant-based meat industry.
Tunnel freezers work by rapidly freezing foods using cryogenic gases, such as liquid nitrogen (LN2) or carbon dioxide (CO2). The food items are placed on a conveyor belt, which carries them into the freezer, where an injection system (utilizing either liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide), together with fans circulating the gas-chilled air, ensures that all food products are quickly and evenly frozen.
Oxygen Monitors Can Improve Safety in Plant-Based Food Manufacturing
While the use of liquid nitrogen and/or carbon dioxide is important in the production of plant-based meats, it is not without risk. LN2 and CO2 are both oxygen depleting gases, and oxygen deprivation could put employees in real danger if there are gas leaks from freezer supply lines or exhaust systems, or from on-site gas storage containers. In the event of a leak, plant personnel could become disoriented, lose consciousness, or even suffocate from breathing oxygen-deficient air. Since LN2 and CO2 are both colorless and odorless, workers would, in the absence of appropriate monitoring, have no way of knowing that there has in fact been a leak. By utilizing a top-quality oxygen monitor, safety and production personnel can track oxygen levels and detect leaks before workers’ health is jeopardized.
PureAire Water-Resistant Dual O2/CO2 Monitors
PureAire Monitoring Systems’ water-resistant dual oxygen/carbon dioxide monitors offer thorough air monitoring, with no time-consuming maintenance or calibration required. A screen displays current oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, for at-a-glance reading by employees, who derive peace of mind from the monitor’s presence and reliable performance. In the event of a nitrogen or carbon dioxide leak, and a decrease in oxygen to an unsafe level, the monitor will set off an alarm, complete with horns and lights, alerting personnel to evacuate the area.
PureAire’s dual oxygen/carbon dioxide monitor is housed in an IP67 water-resistant enclosure that will keep the electronics dry during wash-downs, and the monitor will remain accurate at extremely low temperatures. That makes it ideally suited for environments, such as plant-based food processing facilities that use liquid nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Built with zirconium oxide sensor cells and non-dispersive infrared sensor (NDIR) cells to ensure longevity, PureAire’s water-resistant dual O2/CO2 monitors can last, trouble-free, for over 10 years under normal operating conditions.